Thursday, November 17, 2011

Resonating with others: changes in motor cortex

Individual concepts of self, or self-construals, vary across cultures. In collectivist cultures such as Japan, individuals adopt an interdependent self-construal in which relationships with others are central, whereas in individualist cultures like the U.S., a more independent self-construal with less emphasis on relationships with others is more likely to be adopted. Obhi et al note some interesting brain correlates of shifting self construal from interdependent to independent. Their data suggest that motor resonance mediates nonconscious mimicry in social settings:
“Self-construal” refers to how individuals view and make meaning of the self, and at least two subtypes have been identified. Interdependent self-construal is a view of the self that includes relationships with others, and independent self-construal is a view of the self that does not include relations with others. It has been suggested that priming these two types of self-construal affects the cognitive processing style that an individual adopts, especially with regard to context sensitivity. Specifically, an interdependent self-construal is thought to promote attention to others and social context to a greater degree than an independent self-construal. To investigate this assertion, we elicited motor-evoked potentials with transcranial magnetic stimulation during an action observation task in which human participants were presented with either interdependent or independent self-construal prime words. Priming interdependent self-construal increased motor cortical output whereas priming independent self-construal did not, compared with a no-priming baseline condition. These effects, likely mediated by changes in the mirror system, essentially tune the individual to, or shield the individual from, social input. Interestingly, the pattern of these self-construal-induced changes in the motor system corroborates with previously observed self-construal effects on overt behavioral mimicry in social settings, and as such, our results provide strong evidence that motor resonance likely mediates nonconscious mimicry in social settings. Finally, these self-construal effects may lead to the development of interventions for disorders of deficient or excessive social influence, like certain autism spectrum and compulsive imitative disorders.

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